Few hunters go through the trouble of planting dove fields, but everyone loves to hunt them this time of year. Here’s one option.
With one hand holding my hat on my head and the other holding onto the bed of the pickup truck, I prayed our driver — whoever he was — wouldn’t hit a bump or rut on the gravel road.
With everyone leaving the driveway of Rick Moore Farms like bats out of hell, my partner and I just tossed our guns and gear into the nearest truck that invited us to ride out to the dove field with them.
Everyone was milling around shooting the breeze and in the next instant playing follow the leader. In one massive convoy of shooters young and old, they drove pickups, four wheelers and mules several miles through the dark on the second day of the 2010 dove season trying to beat daybreak.
Bone dry, the convoy kicked up so much dirt along the road I could taste it while hanging on for dear life. When a hunt starts out like this, you somehow know it has the makings for being a good one.
There really weren’t any designated or assigned blind locations to be had once we arrived at the field. The 20 or 30 hunters — it was too dark to count everyone at that time of the morning — simply spread out a safe distance from one another in the vast acreage allocated for the hunt and waited for legal shooting light.
This set up clearly wasn’t a bad deal for a farmer with plenty of land where mourning dove prefer to feed, or for the hunters willing to pay a few bucks for a place to shoot them.
Matt DeRouen, a Lafayette local, set up the hunt and invited me through a mutual friend to try and shoot a few of the little gray rice-land rockets. It had been 25 years since my last dove hunt, simply because there aren’t many places Louisiana upland game hunters can go to shoot them, unless they own or lease land that happens to offer decent wing shooting.
DeRouen, who makes his living selling electrical materials and equipment, grew up hunting doves before development and progress took over his old haunts. Finding a place like Rick Moore Farms, which besides duck and goose hunts also offers inexpensive day hunts for doves in early September, helped to fill a niche by providing a suitable place where he could bring a few friends, clients and, most important, his son.
“It’s a neat deal,” DeRouen said. “When I was a kid, we grew up in the country and there were more bean fields. All the farmers planted beans before they all became cane fields. I remember us having great dove hunts in some of the places we hunted.
“As I got older and finished college, it’s like all these fields have buildings on them or they’re cane fields now, which have no value to doves. I found this place, and for (a few) dollars you can hunt all morning, get fed a meal and go back out if you want to. You really can’t beat it. I think it’s worth it.”
Once I got settled into a spot where I felt comfortable — a good couple hundred yards from a guy in camouflage to my left and about the same distance to a fellow dressed the same way to my right — I started to relax a bit. Loading my shotgun with a pair of 12-gauge shells stuffed with 1 1/8 ounce of No. 7-1/2 shot, I could see a few doves, as if on cue, pass high over the field.
Somebody down the gauntlet thought they were low enough to shoot, and literally started a chain reaction of Louisiana shock and awe until eventually one of the birds fell from the sky.
“I got it,” could be heard from several voices somewhere east of me. All I knew was it wasn’t me. My dove hunting years before was always done in the late afternoon near stock tanks and ponds in the desert, surrounded by mesquite and cholla cactus. There, they came in like ducks.
By comparison, it was the feed the dove were looking for in the Welch countryside. What’s more, there was plenty of it and not just in the field we were in, but in every farm field that had been planted with millet or was overgrown with weeds.
It also was a morning pass shoot, with doves hooked up twisting and turning doing funny things in the sky whenever there was a volley fired at them. This was definitely an acquire, lead and swing through type shoot using more restrictive chokes to hold patterns tighter at longer distances.
I stuck with modified and full choke tubes screwed deep into the stacked barreled shotgun that I prefer using when I’m somewhere other than the marsh. But ultimately it boils down to shooting what your comfortable with. There were a lot of guys shooting duck and goose guns.
For some hunters, a September dove hunt is only a precursor to knock the rust off for the special teal season that typically opens two weeks later in September. For others it’s the first chance to take a gun out of the closet to simply hunt with friends and eat some barbecue. Still, for others like DeRouen, it’s a chance to take his son hunting.
A dove field not only has a certain amount of action that keeps youngsters interested, but offers a place where lessons on hunting safety can be taught in a controlled environment with lots of mentors.
“I brought my little boy a couple of times over the season, and he wants more and more,” DeRouen said. “He can’t get enough of it. He asks all the time, ‘When is hunting season coming around?’ So, he’s pretty hooked on it. And it’s nice to just go out there to relax and lounge around. It’s a great deal for kids.”
Moore says he holds dove hunts each year, provided he has birds, which typically are mourning doves, both resident and migratory. He also doesn’t hunt opening day of the season, because it doesn’t open until 12 p.m.
“Originally, I would always hunt opening day,” he said. “But the first weekend of September is just too hot for people to be hunting at noon. Dove are the first thing they can pull the trigger on for the year. You can tell people it’s too hot to go at 12 o’clock, but they are going to want to go anyway. I had folks two years in a row passing out and everything else.
“Since then, I’ve been doing it on Sunday of opening weekend because they can hunt at daylight on the second day. We hunt until it gets too hot, then stop and eat a little food and what have you, until it cools off. If you want to go back that’s fine.”
“A little food and what have you” is really Moore’s humility speaking. The fact is, the meal is part of the whole package and might very well be what hunters remember most.
Moore cooked 150 pork chops for 50 to 60 hunters on the Sunday of opening weekend in 2010. But no matter where you choose to day hunt for doves, there is nothing like coming in from the field and swapping stories over a good plate of barbecue, potato salad and cold refreshments sitting somewhere in the shade.
“I went a couple years ago to a place a little farther south — down around Creole close to Lake Charles,” DeRouen recounted. “And they were around $75 or $100 — roughly the same price as Rick Moore Farms.
“The guy set up a tent out there and barbecued and served po-boys. And you could pretty much go hunt for the day.”
Where Moore’s farm is in Welch, hunters can expect to shoot and see mainly mourning doves. However, shooting whitewing doves is a possibility.
“Doves are migratory birds, and 75 percent of the birds we hunt are migratory and the rest are residents,” Moore said. “We primarily have mourning doves. But we are getting more and more whitewings, which were hardly ever in our area before. The last couple of years we are seeing more, though not enough to talk about — but seeing more.”
Farm to farm, field preparations are different depending on the agricultural crops planted. On one field it may simply mean bush hogging a grown-over field of weeds. For another it may mean some form of manipulation associated with normal agricultural processes. Whatever the case, hunters should expect for their money a field prepped in such a manner, where an enforcement agent upon arrival won’t be issuing tickets for hunting over bait.
I chose a spot between two wide — 30 feet or so — grown-up rows of chest-high weeds with fairly wide bush hogged strips of weedy dirt between them. The rows were perhaps a quarter mile long, giving me a full field of view in pretty much every direction.
Simply by hunkering low in the weeds, I was able to knock down a couple birds. But I must admit that I was a lousy judge of distance and should have been pulling the trigger more.
Others were more proactive and flung pellets at every passing dove that looked close enough to dust with a round of shot. I learned you have to be a little more aggressive when it comes to pass shooting a dove field. Especially, when shared by a large group of hunters all with the same goal in mind — dove gumbo.
Having learned the ropes my first go round on Rick Moore’s Farm, I don’t plan on being so selective this year when it comes to taking aim at a few gray rice-land rockets. Moore doesn’t have a website and pretty much word of mouth provides steady clientele, but those interesting in doing a day hunt this month with Moore can reach him by calling (337) 540-5211. Ask for “Satch.”
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.